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The Reading Debate Rolls On

On the plus side, today's ramble on reading is brought on by an essay by Ursula K Le Guin! She has an essay in the February Harper's, entitled "Staying Awake: Notes on the Alleged Decline of Reading."

In a nice departure from the usual cultural handwringing on the beknighted youth of today, she attacks the publishing industry and its dominance by bestsellers that are seldom the best of anything. Calling upon the corn industry of Michael Pollan and The Omnivore's Dilemma (no, I haven't finished it yet..), she likens current publishing trends to the artificial corn market: "And you can't stop these processes, because if you did profits might become listless, even flat."

That's right. Television, movies, and video games aren't the enemy of the printed word. It's the publishers themselves.

So why don't the corporations drop the literary publishing houses, or at least the literary departments of the publishers they bought, with amused contempt, as unprofitable? Why don't they let them go back to muddling along making just enouhg, in a good year, to pay binders and editors, modest advances and crummy royalties, while plowing most profits back into taking chances on new writers? Since kids coming up through the schools are seldom taught to read for pleasure and anyhow are distracted by electrons, the relative number of book-readers is unlikely to see any kind of useful increase and may well shrink further. What's in this dismal scene for you, Mr. Corporate Executive? Why don't you just get out of it, dump the ungrateful little pikers, and get on with the real business of business, ruling the world?

Um yeah, she gets carried away. But its nice to see someone being angry for a change, rather than complacent, or woebegone, or just damn whiney.

Rock on.

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